The National Arboretum: an Escape from the City

Washington, DC has a pretty wide breadth of green space including Rock Creek Park, the Capitol Crescent Trail, and smaller parks around the city. But I particularly enjoy the monstrous, 446-acre space that is The National Arboretum. There is a huge variety of plants, open space, and wooded areas and its size help eliminate city noise and claustrophobia. You can find any kind of space you want for relaxation or exercise. So what do you need to know to make the most out of a visit? 

Getting To The National Arboretum: Parking & Biking What to Wear

The National Arboretum is not metro accessible so you’ll have to drive, taxi, or bike over. (Capitol Bike Share has a station near the arboretum’s main entrance.) There is plenty of parking around the arboretum so you don’t necessarily have to walk the full length to see everything. 

It goes without saying that you should wear walking shoes and be prepared for the current temperature. However, it is worth noting that the arboretum’s most recognizable feature, The Capitol Columns, is located in a very large open space. Sunny days can feel extra hot and breezy days can feel extra cold in this area. Dress for the weather of the day and don’t forget a sunhat and sunscreen. 

Free parking is available throughout the National Arboretum including at the front of the park near the Capitol Columns and in the back near The Grove of State Trees (the picnic area). 

What to See

If you are a first time visitor or are looking for something specific, stop by the visitor center.  You’ll find maps, self-guided tours to follow, and lists of what’s blooming.  You can also download the US National Arboretum app which includes most of the information you’ll find in the visitor center. This includes a map and lots of pictures. You can also check out the layout of the arboretum on the website before your visit. 

Most of the big exhibits are near the visitor center including The National Herb Garden, The Bonsai and Penjing Museum, Friendship Garden, and Azalea Collection. Plus, don’t miss the Capitol Columns!  These are the original 1828 columns that made up the East Portico of the Capitol which were later removed in the 1957 expansion project. A reflecting pool with water trickling down the steps reflects the columns and provides an excellent backdrop for Instagram pics.

Farther into the arboretum, you’ll find exhibits like Hollies and Magnolias, The Asian Collection,  and The Grove of State Trees. 

One of the best-kept secrets about the National Arboretum (or at least something that isn’t advertised often) is the number of flower cherry trees. If you are visiting around Cherry Blossom season, you’ll find a variety of trees that bloom through the season – not just when the Tidal Basin is in full bloom. This makes the arboretum a slightly less crowded spot with a longer season to view these flowering trees. 


The Grove of State Trees is the only area of The National Arboretum where you can picnic. However, this seems to have relaxed some during the pandemic. While visiting in the fall of 2020, we have seen picnicking through the arboretum but guests also seem extra careful to clean up after themselves.

My favorite picnic lunch to bring to the arboretum is Roaming Rooster. Consider stopping at the 21710 Good Hope RD SE location to pick up sandwiches, drinks, and fries to enjoy in the park. 

The Grove of State Trees area of the arboretum is slightly hidden in the back but it is a gem. There are a few picnic tables plus plenty of grassy areas in the shade to spread out on a blanket. There is also plenty of parking nearby so you don’t have to trek the length of the arboretum to get there. 

Can I Bring My Dog?

Yes! Just keep pets on a leash, clean up after them, and keep them off the plants.  The National Arboretum is a great place for pets – and humans! – to get some exercise and fresh air.

The entrance to the Bonsai Garden looks like stepping into another world.
The Capitol Columns are an Insta worthy backdrop!
The view from the Capitol Columns is vast and open. Bring a hat and shades if it's sunny!
The Grove of State Trees is the perfect shady spot for a picnic.

The National Arboretum is open every day except December 25 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is free. 

At a Glance